Top 10 area sports stories: Another decade for the archives
Over the last 10 years, the area sports scene has gone through changes of monumental proportions. A legend retired, a female NASCAR hopeful began making her mark, college and professional baseball took off and the rebirth of Carson High School football showed up out of nowhere to give hope to countless area football fans.
The local sports stories in the first decade of the 21st century are too numerous for each one to get the recognition it deserves. But the sports staff at the Nevada Appeal has tried to rank the top 10 moments from 2000-09.
While there is bound to be some disagreement with the list we present, no one can argue that sports landscape in the area has changed for the better, giving us plenty of good stories and memories to think about.
But sports, as with most things in life are cyclical and while these last 10 years have been full of good, who knows what will come in the next 10 years.
10 Minor League baseball comes back to Reno
Minor league baseball has a long history in Northern Nevada, but that history has been marred by the disappointment of seeing team after team disbanded or moved, while area baseball fans have sought to get their fix elsewhere.
But as we move into the next decade, fans are hopeful that they won’t have to look far thanks to the Reno Aces and the $50-million Aces Ballpark that has rooted professional baseball in the area for the foreseeable future.
The Aces broke ground on Aces Ballpark in Feb. 28, 2008, and had the sports community salivating every time they drove past the downtown Reno site, or checked the construction progress online. And when the park finally opened on April 17, 2009, none of the 9,167 fans went home disappointed as the Aces rolled to an 11-1 victory.
The first season of play saw the introduction of the long ball with Josh Whitesell leading the way early on. He had eight home runs before being called up for good in September, giving way to newly acquired Brandon Allen. In just 38 games with the Aces, Allen hit 12 homers.
On the field, the season wasn’t quite what the Aces had hoped for. They bounced between third and fourth place in the Pacific Coast League’s South division before finishing the season with seven straight wins to finish second behind the Sacramento River Cats.
Changes are already on the horizon for the Aces when they take back to the field on April 8, but it appears professional baseball is back – at least for awhile.
9: Brandi Vega breaks state goals record
Vega capped a brilliant four-year soccer career and three-year basketball career at Carson by being named the school’s top female athlete in 2008.
Vega made her mark in soccer, setting the NIAA state record for goals with 77, many of those coming in her last three years.
“When she first got here, she would get to the goal and give the ball to somebody else, usually Kayla (Sanchez) or Cassie Bowman,” soccer coach Randy Roser said.
Vega got the record when she scored both goals in a 2-2 tie against Galena.
“I wasn’t sure (when the season started) if it was reachable,” Vega said. “Anything can happen. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. We’ve talked about it a lot. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen.
“On the first one, I didn’t think I would get it past the keeper until I saw her go under it. I’m glad it happened early, so I could relax a bit.”
After a one-year absence, Vega played basketball her senior year and with her at the point, Carson improved by more than 10 wins from the 2007-2008 season and reached the zone playoffs.
“If she would have spent the time on basketball that she did on soccer, she would have been dynamic in basketball,” said basketball coach Todd Ackerman. “Soccer was her first love and you could certainly see that. She would be good at anything she tried because she was such a good athlete.”
Vega parlayed her soccer success into a scholarship to Washington State.
Vega’s first season as a Cougar was an unqualified success. She scored five goals and had three assists.
Washington State reached the NCAA Tournament, beating Villanova and losing to Maryland, both by 1-0 scores.
8. Capital City Volleyball takes third in nationals
The local club put Carson City on the map when it finished third nationally in the 2002 Junior Olympics’ Open Division tournament. CCVC had qualified in 2001, but opted not to attend.
The team was led by ex-Douglas star Emily Haas. Carson’s Rachel Deremier and Alyssa Wilson were on the squad along with ex-Fallon stars Tristin Adams and Carly Sorensen. Brittany Addeo and Michelle Patterson, both of Douglas, and Teal Ericson of North Tahoe rounded out the squad, according to coach Steve George.
Haas went on to play at the University of San Diego and then transferred to UNR, but didn’t play. She currently coaches one of the 16-year-old teams at Capital City. when she isn’t playing pro volleyball in Europe.
“It’s very difficult to do that (qualify for nationals in the Open Division),” said George, who was the team’s head coach. “Only two teams have qualified from Nevada. I never thought we would qualify in 2001. We qualified at one of the last tournaments. We had a couple of players who couldn’t go so we stayed home.
“The group really came on as juniors. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had. We had very different personalities on the team and somehow they were always able to come together.”
7. In four years, WNC goes to World Series twice
When Western Nevada College set out to start a baseball program, it never expected it to take off this quickly.
Since its inception in 2006, the Wildcats have made two NJCAA World Series appearances (2007, 2009), won two Western District titles (2007, 2009) and won two Scenic West Conference championships (2006, 2009).
The Wildcats hold a 164-76-2 record in that time and have sent 47 players to four-year colleges or onto professional baseball teams.
Stephen Sauer is the highest-drafted Wildcat to date. After spending a year at Arizona State, he was taken in the 10th round by the Chicago White Sox.
D.J. Whittemore has been the Wildcats’ coach since the beginning. He has been named the Western District and SWAC coach of the year two times each.
6. Carson football returns to prominence
The Senators won the Sierra League championship and a school-record nine games this past fall under second-year head coach Blair Roman.
They lost to Galena 14-7 in the second round of the playoffs. Only 14 points separated the Senators from 12 straight wins.
Carson improved by six games in 2009. Carson was just 3-7 in 2008.
“I knew we were much improved,” said Roman. “I personally thought we were good enough to play with Douglas and possibly play with Manogue and be in the top three. We didn’t play down to our competition. We played solid, winning football. That’s where I thought our performance week to week was so impressive. This team deserved everything they got. Nobody gave us anything (or any chance).
“The only disappointing thing is that we didn’t get the chance to play for the regional title. It’s not like that comes around at Carson High very often. I would have liked to have played another week.”
There were some outstanding individual performances. Sophomore Dylan Sawyers scored 24 times (16 rushing, 6 receiving and 2 kick-off returns). Mark Sinnott scored 13 TDs, Blake Plattsmier accounted for more than 1,100 yards total offense, linebacker Luke Carter had 116 tackles and Junior Valladares had 112. Justin Barlow was a two-way first-team all-regional pick.
Roman said that Carter and Barlow have an opportunity to play at the next level.
5. Carson cross country teams dominates
The program has been the most dominating on campus in the past decade.
The Senators’ resume includes a girls’ team state title in 2001, its first since a run of four from 1989-1992, another in 2007 under current coach Pete Sinnott, several individual state titles and, most recently, a state sweep by the girls’ and boys’ teams in 2009.
When Carson swept the boys and girls team titles it was the first time a school had done that since 2006 when Reno accomplished the feat. It was also the Carson boys’ first state title since 1991.
Over the last decade, the name that stood out the most was Shroy.
Brothers Chad and Richard dominated the state with both winning individual state titles. Chad accomplished the feat in 2006 as a senior and Richard did the same in 2009.
4. Nevada goes to NCAA tourney four times
Trent Johnson and then Mark Fox took Nevada from a so-so mid-major to a powerhouse in the Western Athletic Conference and four straight NCAA appearances (2004-2007), including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004. In that span, Nevada posted a 106-27 record.
Nevada has seven straight post-season appearances, appearing in one NIT under Johnson and two CBI (College Basketball Invitationals) under Fox.
Nevada earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 after defeating UTEP in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament. It marked the team’s first NCAA invitation since 1985.
The 10th-seeded Pack traveled to Seattle where it promptly pulled off two upsets, knocking off Michigan State and No. 2 seed Gonzaga.
Nevada trailed by as many as 16, but behind Kirk Snyder and Todd Okeson, rallied to win. Thanks to some long 3-pointers by Okeson and some solid inside play, the Pack rolled by Gonzaga.
Nevada fell one win shy of reaching the regional finals, dropping a 72-67 top Georgia Tech in the Jones Dome in St. Louis. Nevada, which finished 25-9, failed to score in the last two-plus minutes. Kirk Snyder left after his junior season and was the No. 16 pick in the NBA draft.
Johnson left for Stanford after the season, and Fox, his top assistant, took over the squad.
Nevada posted a 25-7 record in 2005, including a second trip to the Big Dance. Nevada edged Texas 61-57 thanks to Kevinn Pinkney, who picked up a struggling Nick Fazekas, who scored 10 points and pulled down 12 rebounds and didn’t play down the stretch. Nevada went up against top-ranked Illinois and lost 71-59 despite 22 points and 11 rebounds from Pinkney.
Nevada made it three straight in 2006, posting a 27-6 and earning its second automatic bid. Nevada reeceived a No. 5 seed and was promptly upset by No. 12 Montana, 87-79. Marcelus Kemp scored 34 points and Fazekas added 24 points and 12 rebounds.
In 2007, Nevada was ranked in the top 10 for a while and received its fourth straight NCAA invite. Nevada tipped Creighton 77-71 in overtime thanks to 27 points by Marcelus Kemp. Nevada lost to Memphis in the next round.
Fazekas, a two-time All-American, was drafted early in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks. He is now playing basketball in Europe.
3. Matt Williams first Carson grad to win Series
Matt Williams became the national face of Carson High School baseball when he broke into the big leagues in 1987, but it would be 14 years and two teams later before he won the World Series.
In the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees, he hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to help propel Arizona to a 4-0 win in Game 1. He was on deck when Luis Gonzalez hit a bloop-single with bases loaded to win Game 7.
Many local fans will remember Williams as San Francisco Giant. He broke into the big leagues with the Giants at the age of 21 after being selected third overall in the 1986 amateur draft out of UNLV.
He made the World Series three times in his career. The first came in 1989 during the infamous Bay Bridge Series in which the Bay Area was hit a 7.1 magnitude earthquake just prior to the start of Game 3 of the series. The Giants were swept by the Oakland Athletics.
He made again in 1997 during his only season with the Cleveland Indians. They lost to the Florida Marlins 4-3.
He retired after the 2003 season as a five-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glover and and four-time Silver Slugger. He finished as high as third (1999) in MVP voting and led the majors in home runs during the strike-shortened 1994 season.
2. Kayla Sanchez runs into state record books
The Carson grad was one of the most decorated athletes in Nevada track and field history. She lettered four times in track and twice in soccer.
She won 12 individual titles in her track career. She swept the 200-meter and 300-meter hurdle races all four years, won the 100-meter three times and won the long jump once (her senior year). She also added two second-place finishes and two thirds in that four-year span.
Sanchez was named the Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year for Nevada in both 2007 and 2008 (co-winner).
“Looking back, I didn’t really know how big it was until I went off to college,” Sanchez said. “When I went away to college, I got a chance to look back.”
“She is the best girl track athlete I’ve ever coached,” said Todd Ackerman, who coached Sanchez her first three years. “Winning state (titles) as a freshman isn’t uncommon. It’s harder to keep that going. To stay healthy for four years and be at full strength is hard to do.”
Sanchez has continued her success at the college level. She ran a leg on Arizona State’s 400-meter relay team which placed sixth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Sanchez will again run the 400 hurdles as well as the 100 and 200-meter sprints plus run on relays.
1. McNutt retires, coaches Galena on his field
Former Carson High baseball coach Ron McNutt is the best coach in state history and it isn’t even close. When he retired in 2004 after 29 seasons at the Senators’ helm, he had 657 wins all-time. That is almost more than double what Keith Neville (351) did in 27 years at Mineral County.
When he retired from Carson High School from his post as athletic director in 2006, it was thought to be the last time he would be seen at the field named in his honor in an official capacity. But three years later, McNutt got the coaching itch again and rather than taking over his old spot at Carson, a position that was newly reopened, he was named the coach of conference-foe Galena.
The hiring sent many Carson fans to their calendars for the much anticipated three-game series in which McNutt would be the visiting coach for two of those games at Ron McNutt Field.
During his time at Carson, McNutt coached seven future Major Leaguers – Charlie Kerfeld, Matt Williams, Bob Ayrault, David Lundquist, Donovan Osborne, Dusty Bergman and Darrell Rasner.
Additionally, he coached an extremely successful summer traveling team dubbed the Carson Capitols. McNutt won four national titles and had a record of 1,217-246.
The 2000 and 2001 teams featured future Major Leaguers J.P. Howell (USC, Texas) and Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State), along with many Division I players, including Galena’s Joey Hooft (Miami), Bill Paganetti (Stanford), Dustin Hahn (LSU), Marshall Hendon (Cal State Fullerton), Baker Krukow (Nevada), Joe Jacobitz (USF), Carson’s Joe Mercer (Nevada), Douglas High’s Austin Graham (Nevada) and Bub Madrid (Nevada).
“I think Ron, whether other schools want to recognize it or not, raised the bar for baseball in Northern Nevada,” said Tripper Nelson, a former McNutt assistant in the ’90s in a 2004 interview. “His teams were the best dressed, played the best teams and had the best facilities. He provided a model for everybody else.”
McNutt was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame in 2007 capping off a career in which he was named Northern Nevada Coach of the Year 11 times, state Coach of the Year five times and district Coach of the Year three times.
But when he took the Galena job, the whispers of disapproval were deafening. Many locals had plenty to say about his perceived betrayal of the Carson program he built when spoken to off the record. McNutt, though, dismissed any criticism.
“I might go and sit in the third-base dugout,” McNutt said, chuckling at the thought during an interview earlier this year. “I don’t know (what the reaction will be). I haven’t thought about that. It’s not up to me to judge.”
Carson swept Galena in the three games, but it’s obvious that the rivalry will be there as long as McNutt stays at Galena.